Listeriosis (Listeria monocytogenes Infection)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP
    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP

    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP

    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Quick GuideBacterial Infections 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

Bacterial Infections 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

What are listeriosis symptoms and signs?

  • Fever, muscle aches, and occasionally, nausea or diarrhea (or both) are the usual symptoms associated with listeriosis.
  • Some individuals may also experience fatigue and a decrease or loss of appetite.
  • These symptoms usually last up to one week and spontaneously resolve.

However, in some people, the organisms can spread to the brain.

  • The symptoms of meningitis (stiff neck, headache, and fever),
  • altered mental status (confusion, reduced mental activity),
  • loss of balance problems, and seizures (convulsions) may develop in brain infections.
  • Brain abscesses may also occur and cause similar symptoms.
  • The incubation period between exposure and symptoms is quite variable (three to 70 days, with 21 days as average) and may extend up to about two months or more according to some investigators.

Pregnant women who are otherwise healthy usually have only minor symptoms. However, Listeria organisms in pregnant females often cause: 

  • miscarriage,
  • stillbirth,
  • premature birth, or
  • cause infection and,
  • potentially, death of newborns.

Breastfeeding in humans has not been shown to transmit the bacteria to newborns; however, animal studies show the organisms are transferred in breast milk of other mammalian species. Researchers consider it is theoretically possible for the organisms to be transmitted in human breast milk.

Occasionally, localized skin infections may occur, especially in people who handle animals that are infected with Listeria. These skin infections rarely lead to further complications such as brain infection.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/10/2015

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